Wild horses gone wild


In 1971, Congress made the iconic status of wild horses a matter of law. That year they declared "that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West ..." Wild horses "enrich" our lives, they continued, and "are fast disappearing from the American scene."

Today, not so much. A Government Accountability Office report last year found that the BLM may need to slaughter as many as 30,000 horses removed from the open range in order to sustainably maintain other uses of public lands. The increasing costs of holding the animals off-range, the report said, were eating up the horse management program’s budget, accounting for 67 percent of its costs in 2007 and a projected 74 percent in 2008.

What remains the same since 1971 is our reluctance to put them down. Today, by a 239-185 vote, the House passed the Restore Our American Mustangs act—cleverly shortened to ROAM—which would ban slaughter of wild horses.

The bill applies only to BLM’s management program, and would not impact plans currently under consideration in the Northwest to establish horse slaughter facilities on tribal land, according to the office of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Like the BLM, Northwest tribes are struggling to manage swelling wild horse populations. An estimated 20,000 wild horses are running roughshod over tribal lands in Idaho, Oregon and Washinton, according to the Seattle Times. And with horses commanding dismal prices these days—if they’re sold at all—slaughter is an option tribes say they must consider.

"Horses are and always will be important to the tribes for many reasons. They are part of livelihood and our culture. But a part of livestock management involves culling. There’s got to be an outlet to trim the herd," said Jason Smith, a Warm Springs Indian Reservation range manager, at a meeting of the Northwest Tribal Horse Coalition in June.

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